Modest crowds at Casserole Nights

Much of Canada remains unmoved by Quebec

Quebeckers of all kinds have marched in the streets over the past week beating on casseroles. Some are making noise over the emergency Law, #78, which they say unduly restricts rights. Others are showing their anger over a planned tuition hike of $254 per year—the very thing that prompted paralyzing nightly protests in Montreal and Premier Jean Charest’s desperate response.

Just as Quebec student leaders and government negotiators sat down on Wednesday in Quebec City to continue talks to end the student “strike,” the rest of Canada was asked to show support for the pot-bangers by drumming on their own cookware at Casseroles Night in Canada events.

But turnout was modest, suggesting that (so far) the Rest of Canada is staying out of the fight.

Wednesday night’s crowds were most impressive in Toronto where more than 1,000 gathered in Dufferin Grove Park. That said, finding 1,000 people to a march in this city of 5 million people isn’t exactly difficult. Occupy Toronto enticed roughly 3,000 to its march on Oct. 15, 2011. The crowd of Tamil Canadians who marched to draw attention to Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009 was more than 2,000.

In Guelph, an Ontario university town, only an estimated 75 to 100 people showed up to bang pots and pans on Wednesday. In Hamilton, home to McMaster University, just 60 marched. In Kitchener-Waterloo, the estimate was more than 100. In Regina, Sask. the crowd was about 50. In Victoria, B.C. it was more robust 200. In the nation’s capital, Ottawa, police suggest 400 turned out.

For comparison’s sake, the crowd marching in Montreal on March 22 was estimated at 200,000.

So why the unimpressive crowds? Perhaps it’s because students are busy working at summer jobs. Or perhaps we should consider the other theory floating around: that students outside Quebec simply don’t feel as hard-done-by when it comes to tuition. The Toronto Star’s Martin Regg Cohn suggests at least one reason to explain the relatively docility of Ontario’s tuition protests so far:

[Ontario premier Dalton] McGuinty had the good fortune—or political smarts—to pre-empt such protests by promising a 30 per cent rebate on tuition for eligible families in the 2011 election campaign. Even if students are upset about increased fees, it’s hard to rally your classmates when they’ve just received a cheque in the mail.

As the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario (CFS-O) points out, many students don’t get the 30 per cent rebate, so there are plenty who have reasons to feel angry about paying tuition approaching $7,000. But at least 200,000 Ontarian students got rebates of up to $1,625 earlier this year, and that would make just about anyone feel their government cares about cost of school.

Perhaps future student protests in the Rest of Canada will be bigger. Perhaps not. So far, many students outside Quebec appear unmoved.

Josh Dehaas is the editor of Maclean’s On Campus. Click to like us on Facebook.